MORMON CHURCH CANCELS PLANS TO 'EXCOMMUNICATE'
July 17, 2000
San Francisco--A spokesperson for the North America
West Area of the Mormon (LDS) church sent a fax to the San Francisco
Examiner this morning to let the publication and reporter Carol
Ness know that a 'disciplinary council' that was scheduled to discuss
the membership of Owen Edwards of San Francisco has been cancelled.
The 'council' was apparently cancelled due to a front page story
this morning in the Examiner about the church 'excommunicating'
people who have formally resigned from the church. Edwards, a gay
man and former Mormon, was featured in the article because his bishop
had let him know excommunication proceedings had been scheduled
to be held on July 23, despite a formal letter of resignation that
Owens wrote to the church in late February.
Examiner reporter Ness called Edwards this morning
to let him know that she'd received the fax telling her that the
'council' to discuss Edward's 'membership' had been called off.
Edwards says he isn't necessarily thrilled that
the council has been called off, "because it only means they
won't harass ME due to my resignation. What about other people who
send in their resignations? Will they be forced to call the media
when the church threatens to excommunicate them in response to their
resignations? When will the church stop this harassment?"
The public press appears to be a bigger concern
than the welfare of, at least some of, the members.
The writings below are all from the emails I [rpcman]
On Friday, Carol Ness of the SF Examiner called
me regarding this guy who is gay and wants to leave the church. Today,
her story ran on the front page of the paper. After the story
hit, a "spokesman" for the North America West Area Presidency
faxed a letter to Carol Ness (author), saying that the DC has been
cancelled. I find it extremely intersting that the church essentially
backed down AFTER the sh** hit the fan, AND that the cancellation
message was sent NOT to the man himself, but to the EXAMINER. They
obviously want to send a PUBLIC message that they have cancelled
the exing. I also find it significant that the fax came, NOT
from church PR, either local or general, but from the NAWest Area
Subj: In the SF Examiner today
Date: 7/17/2000 5:53:23 PM Mountain Daylight Time
Leaving Mormon Church difficult
By Carol Ness OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
July 17, 2000
Joining the Mormon Church is easy. Getting out
can be hell.
So says Owen Edwards, a 28-year-old San Francisco
masseur and student aesthetician.
Born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, Edwards faces a disciplinary hearing and possible excommunication
for submitting his resignation, explaining his reasons and asking
to have his name removed from the Mormon Church's membership records.
That was 41/2 months ago - and some 13 years since
he had stopped attending church. Edwards charges he is being kept
against his will in a church that doesn't even want him because
he is gay.
"I just feel like this is very hurtful to
me - that I can't just walk away. I have to fight tooth and nail,"
"I personally believe the Mormon Church is
a vindictive bunch of cult members," he added.
Edwards believes he faces a disciplinary hearing
because, in his resignation letter, he said he was gay, had a partner
and wanted his name removed because of the church's all-out campaign
for Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative against legal gay marriage
that Californians passed last year. The Mormon Church considers
having gay sex, like murder, grounds for excommunication.
Bishop Bryan Earl's letter informing Edwards that
he faced possible excommunication said only that it was "because
of information contained in your letter."
The Mormon Church's Bay Area spokesman, Jay Pimentel
of Alameda, said he could not comment on Edwards' case because it's
Edwards is far from alone. Quitting the Mormon
Church has long been difficult. Excommunication was the only way
to sever ties until the 1980s, when a lawsuit forced the church
to allow members to have their names stricken from membership rolls.
But in many cases, so-called name
removal can wind up taking months or years, require repeated
letters and inquiries, and prompt persistent and ongoing visits
and calls from fellow Mormons that, some ex-Mormons say, approach
harassment and invasion of privacy.
In some cases, like Edwards', disciplinary hearings
are called. Members are investigated, their families and acquaintances
are questioned, and any transgression and its punishment can be
announced by church leaders.
Members like Edwards who are gay appear especially
vulnerable to discipline and excommunication when they try to leave
- although the evidence is anecdotal.
The church's campaign for Prop. 22 prompted a spate
of resignations, including Edwards'. Since then, at least 300 Mormons
have contacted Kathy Worthington, an ex-Mormon activist in Utah
who helps members navigate the name-removal process.
At least three, all of them gay, have been excommunicated.
How many people resign yearly, or try to, is impossible
to assess. Through Pimentel, the church declined to provide statistics
on name-removal requests - how many are submitted, if that number
is growing, how many end up in disciplinary hearings or lead to
excommunication - or explain why. A call to the membership records
director at church headquarters in Salt Lake City was not returned.
Pimentel said name removals are handled locally
and each case is different. He denied that the church can try to
make it hard for people to leave.
Members who write letters seeking to resign will
be contacted by church leaders to make sure they're not being pressured,
and that they understand the consequences for their souls, he said.
If there is a suspicion that the member has committed
some transgression, however, disciplinary hearings can be called.
Such transgressions include criminal behavior and sex out of marriage.
Pimentel was not sure if homosexuality, without
proof of sexual activity, was enough to trigger a hearing. The Mormon
Church, like many mainstream Christian churches, considers homosexuality
immoral but retains gay members if they are chaste and seek to change.
The three excommunications this year, however,
suggest a different story.
Forty-eight-year-old Loyd Bulkley of Murray, Utah,
was raised in the church, married and raised his four children as
Mormons and then divorced. He came out of the closet nine years
He stopped going to church, except for special
occasions involving his children. Church leaders challenged him
once, and he told them to get lost.
But after a spat with his most devout son, he decided
to quit. His letter didn't say he was gay, and asked that he not
"Then I get a letter saying, "We have
heard from reliable sources that you are homosexual. We can't just
let you resign. We have to have a disciplinary court,' " Bulkley
recalled. His hearing was June 15, held before 15 assembled church
"Twelve men in a high council and three stake
presidents - to kick out one gay man who wants to be out. I felt
like one letter should have done it," he said.
He was excommunicated, although the church had
no evidence of sexual activity. Family members who had not known
he was gay have cut off contact with him as a result, he said.
If you don't take your name off, he said, "you
can quit going and they can harass and torment you, they send teachers
over and people to visit you and call you and invite you to functions.
They want you back into the church.
"It's never really your choice," he added.
"Then if you do something wrong they'll kick you out."
Two Cedar City, Utah, women in their 30s tell a
similar story. Both raised in the Mormon church, they fell in love.
Once they moved in together, the church started sending visiting
teachers, to spy, one of the women thinks.
Earlier this year they wrote separate letters of
resignation, saying they disagreed with church policies and involvement
Then their bishop showed up, trembling, to ask
if "what we've heard is true," the woman related. They
"They took away our power to decide what we
want to do," she said. Her partner's family was devastated,
she said. Her cousins stopped talking to her.
All three have talked about trying to sue the church.
Worthington has been trying to get a class-action
lawsuit together, but said Utah laws aren't conducive. She's hoping
Edwards will sue in California, which has explicit privacy guarantees.
He's seeking a lawyer, but churches have proved
fairly immune to litigation over their treatment of members.
Like most Mormons, Edwards was born into the church.
He was baptized at age 8 - before he was old enough to make such
a decision for himself.
When he was 13, he realized he was gay and decided
he was OK, no matter what his church thought.
He's had almost nothing to do with the church since
he was 15, when he left his mother's Utah home for his father's
in Southern California.
Since 1997, he's lived in San Francisco, now with
his partner in the Tenderloin. He's a licensed masseur and attends
Miss Marty's beauty school on Mission Street to get his spa certification.
He never before sought to quit the church because
he didn't want to have to tell his mother, for whom Mormonism is
vital. But activism by people like Worthington over the church's
Prop. 22 campaign galvanized him to write his letter.
He doesn't intend to go to his hearing next week
and he expects it to result in excommunication.
He didn't intend to try to take the church on in
court, but its refusal to let him quit has sparked the fight in
The spiritual effect of excommunication is, to
Edwards, the same as if he were just allowed to quit. But it is
a black mark against him with other people, who because of the process
will find out he is gay, he said.
"This is the first time I have ever spoken
out against the church directly," he said, "because in
my opinion they are attacking me directly and I have no choice."